He and I would sit in the hot tub, and he'd be Hansel and I'd be Gretel and my mom (upstairs with a migraine) would be the witch. (Yes, I now think this is weird, if not psychologically damaging, that my father let me cast my unwitting mother as the villain. At least I can say that on the day I have in mind I kept looking up at the window of my mother's bedroom, hoping to see the shade go up, which meant the witch felt better and might join us at the pool.) Or we'd play Chasen's.
Chasen's restaurant, which is now closed, was a legendary celebrity hangout on Beverly Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Frank Sinatra, Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Stewart, and most of the Hollywood elite were regulars in their day. When I was a kid, the family would go to Chasen's on Mother's Day or Father's Day for a fancy celebration. So my dad and I would recline in the Jacuzzi and say, "We've just arrived at Chasen's. What should we order?"
A few years later I asked my parents for an allowance because the other kids at school had allowances. My father wanted to give me five dollars, but I wanted only twenty-five cents because that's what the other kids got. Dad told me that in order to earn my allowance, I'd have to help out around the house, so he gave me a job and said he'd do it with me. Every weekend we'd go out into the yard to scoop up dog poo and rake leaves.
That's right, every weekend TV mogul Aaron Spelling, net worth equivalent to some small island nation, went out and scooped poo with his daughter. We hadn't yet moved to the Manor — that enormous house that the press can't get over — but we still had a large yard and four dogs. And of course we had gardeners who were supposed to be taking care of all that. But there was always plenty for us to pick up, and I suspect he told the gardeners to leave it be. Sort of like the seashells, I guess — but a lot grosser. No matter, I loved it. I remember spending a lot of time out on that lawn, hanging out with my dad, playing softball, or working in the vegetable garden with him and my mother. One year we grew a zucchini that was as big as a baby. There are photos of me cradling it. My father was very proud — no matter what it was, our family liked the biggest and the best.
For the most part my father thought that money was the way to show love. Where do you think all those lavish jewels my mother wore came from? Every holiday he bought her a bigger and brighter bauble as if to prove his love. When I asked Aunt Kay to help me remember some of the extravagances, she said, "Money was no object. That's how much he loved you. There was no limit to what he would do for you." When my mom and I were planning my wedding, my father said almost the same thing: "She loves you so much. Do you know how much she's paying for this wedding? That's how much she loves you." When it comes down to it, luxury wasn't the substance of my childhood. Love was, simply, the time my parents gave me. What I wish my father had understood before he died is that of all those large-scale memories he and my mother spent so much money and energy creating, picking up poo is what has stayed with me my whole life.